And the Winner is…

As we round out our time in the Country of Tanzania, we have a lot to reflect on. We have spent more than three weeks in the so-called ‘third world’. It has certainly had an effect on us. It is evident that there is a lot to be done for equal opportunity and a truly democratic society to thrive. We realize that access to education and services like electricity, running water and even garbage removal which we take for granted are reserved for the privileged. More concerning, a fair voting process has yet to cemented.

We landed in Moshi, Tanzania three days before the presidential election – quite ironic given that we were looking forward to escaping attention on the political front during our travels. We were amongst very passionate people in an area buzzing with energy. Our guides were thrilled to be able to participate in the voting. They pined to stand in queue to mark their vote and their place in history. Our Safari guide took any chance he could to talk to other locals throughout our adventure to discuss who was in the lead. He had an absolutely infectious energy about him as he kept us abreast.

We left for our Safari on the day the vote took place. All throughout our drive to Terengire National Park we saw heaps of queues along the streets of each small town we passed through. Mind you, people had to wait in line in their ‘district’ to cast their vote. There are no absentee ballots here in Tanzania and most people don’t have a car. For most, this election day was a monumental task to organize their personal schedules to ensure they could participate. This was the first time in their near-50 year independence from Britain that another party was running against the ruling party. It was thrilling to witness the passion to not only vote but also the opportunity to represent their party affiliation; driving through the countryside, every other house was flying their flags of allegiance – either CCM, the ruling party, or the opposition, led by candidate Edward Lowassa. Most flags we saw near the towns of Moshi and Arusha were for the opposition: a blue and white flag with the hand showing the universal peace sign. As we drove down the road, kids, adults, almost everyone was all smiles while holding up their piece sign proudly. This was the signal of unity during our visit. It was exhilarating being witness to such an important time in their history. We couldn’t help but feel as though the opposition was going to win with all the support witnessed. It was clear that the opposition had a significant backing by the people of Tanzania – so we thought.

During the drive, our safari guide Mosses made us aware of the power which the ruling party exercised. We learned that the ruling party has been in power for the last 50 years with only three separate presidents. Mosses was very knowledgeable and provided a historical background during our drive through the many towns and villages. During the late 70’s, he spent over a year living in a cave with his family in order to protect themselves from shelling stemming from the territorial wars with Uganda. A harrowing tale that sent shivers down our backs. In speaking of the historic election day, he told us of impending conflict which he and many others anticipated; in the weeks leading up to the election, many boxes of fake votes for the ruling party were found in possession by election officials for said party. We started to realize how easily this symbolic day might simply slip away for so many hopeful Tanzanians. Nonetheless, hope remained on the faces and in the voices of many people we interacted with along the way.

As we finished our final day on safari, we asked Mosses if there was any news to share about the election. Clearly distraught, he told us that ruling party was slated to win. Indeed, it appeared as though the ruling party had rigged the election by use of the aforementioned fake votes. He did, however, mention that the ruling party had lost Zanzibar island to the opposition, but that this, of course, was heavily disputed. His final words about the election were extremely disheartening – he was never going to cast a vote again in light of this blatant corruption. As foreigners, from a democratic country, it was unfathomable that this could happen! This was the first time Mosses had ever voted and hearing that he may never cast a vote again, we realized that we couldn’t offer any helpful words. We decided not to broach the subject for the rest of the trip.

We were on Zanzibar Island for five nights and spent one day in the city of Stone Town. We noticed that we couldn’t see anything but the ruling parties’ flags throughout, which seemed quite odd given what Mosses had mentioned earlier. We were essentially in a European-centric resort with not many people around to discuss the election, which was just fine by us given the ferocity the subject demanded from Tanzanians. As we read a NY Times article trying to find out who did in fact win, we confirmed that the ruling party had yet to concede. The opposition party is fervently demanding a recount as they believe the election was rigged.

The ruling party has stated that they will hold a new election for Zanzibar in three months time but no official word regarding the country at large. In other, very disappointing words, to be continued for the people and country of Tanzania…

Apparently there are some who felt so disgusted and fed-up that they detonated home-made bombs in the streets of Stone Town on the very day we visited:

As you must realize while reading this, we are safe and sound and en route to Italy. News of this magnitude deeply upsets us, not only because we were in extremely close proximity to these terrorist acts but also because it seems that hope may be lost. We leave Tanzania with heavy hearts but truly hope the best for this country and every person we encountered.

If we were keeping score, it’s now Nick and Tarin 2, and disastrous occurrences 0! We have now lived through a Typhoon in the Philippines and a terrorist attack in Tanzania.

Sleep Tight, Don’t let the Elephants Bite

It’s 12am and I am fast asleep in our luxury tent sitting high atop the Terengire valley. The ever-increasing strength of Tarin’s grip on my hand wakes me to a cacophony of animals just outside our canvas tent. I quickly sit up and realize that whatever is making the sound, it’s LARGE and it’s no more than 18 inches from where our heads had just laid. We sit on the bed, hands held tightly, and prepare for the worst; I reach for the aluminum extendo-pole for our GoPro, anticipating that I may have to fend something off. We hear the beast ripping off foliage and chewing, all while a constant “thwack, thwack, thwack” against the canvas of our tent lets us know that it’s definitely on top of us and wouldn’t have much trouble dispatching our tent through the air. Suddenly, a deep and slow rumble from the beast’s throat echoes through the air. We spring from this near-certain death bed and decide that we should hide behind something a little more substantial. The rear of the tent is partially constructed from concrete, so we think we would be safer back there. Shuffling to and fro and convinced that this was it, we ride out a period of about 45 minutes when the animal seems to finally move on. We peer out of the tiny screen windows to find a small family of gazelle appear, almost on queue with the departure of the much larger animal we had just heard. This seems odd, we think – wasn’t there some sort of a snarling beast here only moments ago ready to kill anything nearby? We continued watching the gazelle, in pure amazement of these beautiful animals when in the blink of an eye, they disappear as fast as they had showed up. I continue to look through the window when I see an elephant trunk appear from the left, and grab a tree branch in search of food. It was then that I realized that terrifying collection of sounds which caused our panic was an elephant! The longer we watched, the more elephants we saw. At this point, our fear dissipated and turned to pure wonderment at this rather peaceful looking family of elephants. They exercised their muscle power to snap off tree limbs to feed themselves and eventually moved on. By this time, it’s nearly 3am and we crawl back in to bed in order to catch a couple more hours of sleep. We poked our heads out of the tent at sunrise and waited for our required escort (a man quite a bit smaller than I with a flashlight – watch out one-ton elephants!!!) and make our way to the main lodge to find our safari guide, Mosses, waiting for us. We tell him of our incredible experience and he assures us that we were safe. He then follows this period of reassurance with a real fit of laughter. “Bwahaha…Mzungnu!” he exclaims. He and another guide continue to laugh for a period of several minutes and all we can do is smile and laugh along. Welcome to the safari mzungus (white people).

Our safari was nothing short of amazing. We managed to see nearly all of the big five: elephant, lion, hippo, cape buffalo and the black rhino (never did get to see the rhino!). They are categorized as the “big five” not only because of their large size, but also because of their strong ability to defend themselves and their family members. We witnessed gaggles of  grant gazelle, tons of tiny thompsons, lots of lions, zillions of zebras and enumerable elephants, among others (we’ll have plenty more where that came when we get home)!

Perhaps most special were our sightings of the normally shy and elusive cheetah and leopard. It was my birthday morning when we spotted our first cheetah walking along the road seemingly careless to our presence. We continued to follow the cheetah for several minutes when our guide told us that this was an animal on the hunt; not more than two minutes later, the cheetah bolted on a pack of small Thompson gazelles and disappeared over the horizon – all tail and elbows. Later that day, we were bouncing along the dusty road when we noticed a collection of other safari vehicles huddled around a group of acacia trees. We stopped and peered through the binoculars to find a well-muscled male leopard sunning himself on the large branch of an acacia. Not more than a few minutes later a family of unknowing warthogs came just a little too close to this opportunistic cat and we watched as the leopard leapt from the tree and scooped up a days-old warthog! He brought his prize back to the tree and devoured the snack just out of sight, behind the tree from which he was slumbering. We finished the day back at camp where Tarin had organized a small celebration of sorts with the camp staff. I had already enjoyed a few Safari lagers and had no problem joining in with the staff as they sang and danced as their way of saying “Happy Birthday”. *Pictures to come*

The following day, we witnessed something that Tarin and I both agree was the most special part of our trip. We were headed down a well traveled dirt road when a leopard stepped out of the long grass to show itself. As it continued directly in our path, our guide informed us that this was a female. While she sauntered along, she would occasionally let out a deep and short growl – this, we were told, was her call to her young. We followed her for quite a few minutes but eventually lost sight as she stepped back into the camouflage of the grass. Our guide didn’t waste a moment, and pealed out towards the opposite end of the field which the female leopard had disappeared. We continued along this stretch of grass for 10-15 minutes when I shouted to Mosses – “there she is”! We noticed the mother first and not more than a few steps behind her was one of her young she had found in the grass.


Mama and Baby 1

She continued along, still calling out. Just beyond a line of acacia, another baby appeared and all three were reunited. They played and rubbed against one another, clearly happy to be in each other’s company. We didn’t get a chance to watch much longer as they quickly made their way out of sight.

We woke before sunrise every day and were treated quite well by all our hosts. Coffee, yogurt, bananas and eggs were made available every day before we would head off into the plains. All said and done, we visited Terengire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorogoro Crater Preservation spread out over five days. It was truly an amazing experience, one that we are grateful to have included in our honeymoon adventure.